Easter traditions in Germany

BINSFELD, Germany -- German children decorate Easter eggs. Although the origin of the Easter egg is not fully known it has become a main feature of the holiday. The tradition of the Easter Rabbit hiding the eggs traces to the year 1682. (Photo by Iris Reiff)

BINSFELD, Germany -- German children decorate Easter eggs. Although the origin of the Easter egg is not fully known it has become a main feature of the holiday. The tradition of the Easter Rabbit hiding the eggs traces to the year 1682. (Photo by Iris Reiff)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- When the full moon appears in the sky for the first time after the start of spring, the next Sunday is time to celebrate Easter.

For Christians throughout the world, this is one of the most important holidays of the year. And although church and religion no longer play such a great part in the everyday lives of most people, customs and practices remain.

Gruendonnerstag or Green Thurs¬day, four days before Easter, is not a church holiday; however, it played a role in rural customs of earlier times. The day commemorates the Last Supper celebrat¬ed by Jesus with his disciples.

Good Friday is met with a feeling of sadness and mourning around the world. It is an important and serious day, since it is the day Christians remember Christ's death on the cross. Church's hold services of devotion at the Stations of the Cross. Catholic churches do not ring their bells from Green Thursday until Easter, and sometimes the children are told the bells have been sent to the Pope in Rome for consecration. It has become a tradition for children to walk through town with Good Friday Rattles, wooden noise-makers of various kinds, which are supposed to replace the ringing of the bells, calling Christians to worship.

Along with the traditional Easter walk or outing, giving Easter eggs and also presents, has become a main feature of the feast. Parents give their children colored, hard-boiled eggs, chocolate eggs, marzipan eggs, chocolate easter bunnies, sweets and more. Usually the treats are hidden in the house and when weather allows in the garden, usually in little baskets. The children excitedly search for them Easter morning. They are told the Easter Rabbit brought the eggs. The Easter bunny can be seen everywhere at this time of year on greeting cards sent to friends and relatives, on advertise¬ments or as decorations in the house.

Where do these Easter customs come from? The origin of the Easter egg is not fully known. One reason is that around Easter time, households had plenty of eggs handy since hens began to lay eggs in the Spring. Another explana¬tion is that Easter marks the end of the period of fasting during which eggs and meat were forbidden. All this may have helped to create the custom. Furthermore, Easter eggs, highly colored, often beautifully decorated and painted, are an ancient sign of fertility of the fountain of life and are a symbol of Spring which played a role in pre-Christian times during the first Spring full moon.

The custom of the Easter bunny hiding Easter eggs traces back to the year 1682. Rabbits occurred in connection with other Easter customs because they have their litters at this time and therefore appear more often in people's gardens nibbling on greens. In the 19th century the rabbit became popular as the bringer of Easter presents, and in the first half of the 20th century he finally won out over competitors.